By Tim Merrill | December 9, 2002

Devilishly clever and boasting a killer finale, “Intacto” is this year’s Memento – only Spanish. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s debut feature film does take its sweet time getting going, and you’d better come prepared to think your way through it. Any foreign-language film that requires actual thought is likely to die a dog’s death at the box office, but “Intacto” deserves to catch on.
The most highly prized commodity in the world of “Intacto” is luck, and the story concerns people who have it and others who want it – badly enough to kill for it. Inside a lavish casino in the middle of what looks like a moonscape, we meet the razor-faced Federico (Eusebio Poncela), a sort of “luck thief” who patrols the gaming floors. One gambler whose winnings are piling up too high for comfort gets unlucky when Federico walks by, lays a hand on his shoulder, and steals his luck away. Federico then “delivers” this stolen luck to the casino’s underground vault, to owner and overlord Sam (Max Von Sydow, always a welcome presence). But when Sam lays hands on Federico, he may as well signing his death warrant. Federico is summarily dismissed from Sam’s service, left to fend for himself in the outside world, a world in which luck does not come easily.
It’s when Federico comes across Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia), the sole survivor of a plane crash, that he finds his vehicle of revenge. Federico uses Tomás and his extraordinary luck in an escalating series of high-stakes games, eventually leading him back to the remote casino for one final game with Sam, “the f*****g god of chance” – one final test of whose luck can hold out longer.
“Intacto” deals its clues and meanings with almost excruciating patience; the film is always intriguing but also unafraid to outright confuse. With its calculated sci-fi feel, it’s not the most emotionally engaging movie either (Kubrick would have flipped for it). But by the final minutes – and after a magnificent, touching monologue by Von Sydow explaining the origin of his lifelong streak of luck – director Fresnadillo turns the screws like a master. The final confrontation is brilliantly staged and simply could not be more exciting. “Intacto” is as cold as dry ice, as hard as a diamond. It’s a genuine mind-bender.

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